Within the next few years, the Congress of Industrial Organizations Political Action Committee may become the most powerful vote-herding and lobbying organization in the country. It now has prestige, cohesive organization, political know-how, and formidable resources both in money and in manpower.
Is PAC really a new force? In the historical sense it is not. There were workingmen’s parties in this country before there were any trade unions of consequence. In 1828 fifteen states had labor parties, some of which wielded considerable influence. The early labor movement played a not insignificant part in the establishment of our public school systems. Samuel Gompers, however, would have nothing to do with the notion of a labor party, nor would he let the American Federation of Labor bind itself to either of the major parties. Yet he saw that labor could not afford to neglect politics, and the formula he gave the AFL in 1886 is the same one that PAC has adapted to its own purposes today. For sixty years the AFL has worked on the principle that it should stay out of partisan politics but that it should use the franchise of its members “to punish our enemies and reward our friends,” regardless of party.
In setting up PAC, the CIO is not departing from the Gompers writ in any fundamental way. Like the AFL, PAC takes the party system as it finds it and supports the regular candidates whose voting records are most acceptable to it. However, PAC will give the old formula a more intensive application. The AFL plays its politics rather casually. Its leaders merely advise the members that it is in the interests of the unions that certain candidates be elected and certain others defeated. This is done through the regular union channels. The AFL’s only full-time political employees are its Washington lobbyists. PAC, however, is a national machine, a whole new apparatus outside the regular union structure, set up not only to keep CIO members advised of their political interests but to shepherd them to the polls and registering places.